Affirming the Importance to People with Disabilities of Access to Services, Real Choices, and Self-Determination
September is suicide prevention month, and during its observance, we, the undersigned, express our sincere sorrow that any human ever experiences a level of despair or hopelessness that results in a choice to end one’s own life.
The concern of the disability, military and veterans, and aging communities in suicide prevention is understandable in view of research regarding rates and reasons, which consistently show these groups at increased risk. According to several studies, the biggest difference between notes of those who died as a result of suicide attempts and those who attempted it but survived was a far greater emphasis in the notes of those who died as a result of their attempts on the belief that they were a burden on other people and society at large. Research also shows that isolation or removal of a person from his or her social group creates increased risk for suicide, and that people experiencing depression – a psychiatric disability – are at a 25 times greater risk for suicide than the general population.
As a community of greater than 56 million Americans with disabilities — including veterans with disabilities and the aging community with acquired disabilities – we have a long history of receiving messages from society that we are a burden on account of our health care needs; our difficulty transitioning back into society; or faulty assumptions about the quality of our lives. Far from harmless opinion, these views – often tantamount to “better dead than disabled” – are an insidious threat to our civil rights and to decisions about allocations of public funds.
As long as the majority of Americans with disabilities continue to live in poverty and unnecessary isolation, without access to appropriate mental health care and comprehensive, fully-funded and operational systems of assistive living services, our alarming and distressing rates of suicide, including assisted suicide, will go unchecked. We find this unacceptable, and in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we echo the words of the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency, when it wrote, “Society should not be ready to give up on the lives of its citizens with disabilities until it has made real and persistent efforts to give these citizens a fair and equal chance to achieve a meaningful life.”
Underpinning and enshrined within major American disability civil rights laws is the belief that “disability is a natural part of the human experience.” The immutability of disability – like race or gender – forms the basis of the protections these laws confer. And yet, laws alone, absent abiding commitments from all quarters of society, cannot create the type of societal change that together we are fighting to achieve.
We, the undersigned, on this occasion of observing Suicide Prevention Month:
- Recognize that people with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities and the aging population, are among society’s most likely to end their lives and to experience pressure to end their lives.
- Affirm the statement in Article 10 of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which states that “every human being has the inherent right to life” and pledge to work together to “ensure its effective enjoyment by persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others.”
- Believe disability is a natural part of the human experience and a form of human diversity, and we reject the notion that disability is a fate worse than death.
- Believe dignity is innate in every life and eschew the notion that dignity can only be achieved or reclaimed by extinguishing life.
We encourage leaders from across the country to join us in calling out and rejecting policies and practices that exclude, isolate, and discriminate against people with disabilities that so often encourage self-inflicted or assisted premature deaths; and instead to work together toward the full participation and self-determination of all people with disabilities as equally-valued members of our beautiful and diverse human family.
Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Black Network In Children’s Emotional Health
Boston Center for Independent Living
Center for Self Determination
Coastal Bend Center for Independent Living
Disability Rights Center
FREED Center for Independent Living
IMPRUVE – Independent Movement of Paratransit Riders for Unity, Vehicles, Equality
Life is Worth Living
National Association of the Deaf
National Center for Mental Health Recovery
National Council on Independent Living
National Empowerment Center
National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities
Not Dead Yet
Not Dead Yet of Texas
Prairie Independent Living
Progress Center For Independent Living
REACH Resource Centers on Independent Living
Ron Mace Center
Service Center for Independent Life
Sibling Leadership Network
United Spinal Association
West Virginia Statewide Independent Living Council
 Joiner, T. E., Pettit, J. W., Walker, R. L., Voelz, Z. R., Cruz, J., Rudd, M. D., & Lester, D. (2002). Perceived burdensomeness and suicidality: Two studies on the suicide notes of those attempting and those completing suicide. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 21(5), 531-545.
 W. Breitbart, “Cancer Pain and Suicide,” in Advances in Pain Research and Therapy, ed. K. M. Foley et al., vol (New York: Raven Press, 1990), 399-412.
 National Council on Disability, “Assisted Suicide: A Disability Perspective Position Paper” (1997).
 As expressed in the congressional findings of the U.S. Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, 42 U.S.C.A. §15001 (2000), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C.A. §1400, and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C.A. §701.